EU cooperation is unlike anything else. According to Abbreviationfinder, the European Union is neither a state union nor an international organization, but something as unusual as a binding cooperation between independent states. The construction may resemble a patchwork quilt but has a carefully balanced balance of power between different instances.
- The European Council(Summit) brings together the Heads of State or Government of the Member States and is the highest authority, drawing up guidelines and agreeing on overall steps. Here, each country defends its national interest.
- The European Commission submits proposals and monitors implementation. You are responsible for the common good, the whole. The Commission consists of designated (senior) officials from each Member State but may not take instructions from any country or other party.
- The Council of Ministers is the EU’s legislator, the place where the governments of the member states meet to discuss and decide on laws and regulations.
- The European Parliament is the second legislative assembly and is the voice of the people. The members are elected in direct elections every five years and come from all member countries.
- The European Court of Justice rules disputes that arise regarding the interpretation of the law and thus guarantees that laws and regulations are followed equally by all.
A very simplified picture of how the work works looks like this: The European Commission submits bills. The Council of Ministers and Parliament negotiate and decide on the proposal. The European Court of Justice rules the country that does not comply with EU law.
A closer look reveals, of course, that the procedure and the role of each party are more nuanced than that. The procedure differs, for example, depending on whether the issue is about foreign policy or the environment. What applies more precisely to each area is set out in the EU Treaty.
The reason why many different decision-making processes have emerged within the EU is, among other things, the tug-of-war waged between advocates of supranational development with centralized decisions and advocates of an intergovernmental line with maximum independence for the member states.
A supranational process means that the member states hand over the right to make decisions to the EU and must submit to jointly made decisions, now usually majority decisions. The EU institutions exercise a great deal of influence here through their right to submit proposals and by monitoring the implementation of decisions.
The advantage of supranationalism is that the EU becomes more active. The slowest country must not set the pace. The small countries also gain influence when common rules of the game ensure that it is the same for everyone. The supranational part of the EU is more open to transparency as it is controlled by the elected European Parliament and the European Court of Justice.
Examples of areas where EU decisions are supranational and binding are everything related to the internal market with its free movement of goods, services, capital and people. This also applies to decisions on the euro, on trade, agriculture, fisheries, the environment, labor law, the working environment, judicial and police cooperation, and asylum policy.
… Or intergovernmental
In the intergovernmental line, the individual nation retains decision-making power and can choose to refrain from – or only carry out parts of – an agreed plan.
In foreign and security policy, the mandatory elements are few. A country is only obliged to act in solidarity on an issue where the EU countries have agreed on an attitude. In the field of defense, there is intergovernmental cooperation in which the Union can agree to jointly deploy military troops for peacekeeping purposes, but no country can be forced to participate in or contribute to military action.
Decisions on taxes are national competence and only VAT levels are decided jointly. The EU countries’ tax authorities also pursue non-binding cooperation to prevent tax evasion and tax fraud.
It is proposed, however, to introduce a common basis for corporate taxation in order to avoid tax competition between the countries. Another proposal is to introduce a sales tax on IT companies that can otherwise completely avoid tax in Europe.
An intergovernmental form of cooperation with elements of a completely voluntary nature also exists. In areas such as employment, pension reforms and certain social issues, the countries have, for example, chosen to set common ambitions, but let it be voluntary how and if each country achieves the goals. The idea is that peer pressure will make things happen.